Universal-Translator
Lucy and I Watch Star Trek
by Derek Kannemeyer

What tickled us was never the boldly going. Any fool can boldly go; we      had
the bruises to prove it. It was the Universal Translator. Oh, to know
any and every language! To understand, to be understood!

Peter had brought some Dada to rehearsal: L’Amiral cherche une maison      à louer.
Such glorious nonsense! Lucy wondered if we might subvert the UT with      it—
if the device turned gobbledygook lucid, or it went haywire trying.

So remember, dear Lucy, how we beamed over to the Tate to check out      Dada art?
Or took the tube maybe, I forget? And on the way, began to chat in      tongues—
my gutturals; your long, liquid vowels—riding the joke from Mile End
to Charing Cross, till it took off into lunacies of joy? And its noise
into an ur-tongue—in which we told all, faked all, grasped all:
text, pretext, and subtext; gasp, grunt, groan, and chortle!

Once at the gallery, since now we’d “things” to say, we switched to      English,
but soon fell into a black hole of teen ignorance. The same banalities
the guards had to tune out daily. And so you turned with a sigh,
to board your escape pod of burble, impenetrably desolate.

In comforting Derek, I clucked and kyorr’ked to you.
With a ululoohaloo you beamed back from the void. Oh Lucy, such
dilithium we had, then—to power us into the brillig wabe. To boldly go
gigglegabgoo at anyone. King Herod, the Borg, a coatrack, your toes, the      stars.

IMAGE: Captain Kirk (William Shattner) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) listening to Universal Translators in a scene from Star Trek. 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Even now, when I forget the words of a song, I’ll sometimes sing in my private glossolalic language, and I’m always gratified when people ask what language, and how come I know the lyrics in it. If I could choose my superpower, it might well be the ability to speak and understand every language. But this poem is about teenage friendship. In which the ability to communicate does sometimes feel like a superpower—even if you’re not actually saying much. There’s this astonished glee of mutual attunement. This belief, for a while (until you learn how much you’ve been losing in translation), that there’s someone else in the world on your wavelength.

Kannemeyer bio shot

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Derek Kannemeyer was born in Cape Town, South Africa, raised in London, and lives and teaches in Richmond, VA. His writing has appeared in a few dozen online and print journals.

AUTHOR PHOTO: The writer in his World Languages classroom, 2013.